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Evers wants Republican-led Legislature to back him on redistributing Wisconsin's budget surplus

Gov. Tony Evers speaking.
Screenshot (WisconsinEye)
Gov. Tony Evers gives his fourth and final State of the State address ahead of 2022 midterm elections.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers gave his fourth State of the State address Tuesday night. It was his final one before Evers seeks reelection in midterm elections later this year.

Evers said he’ll be calling Wisconsin's Republican-led Legislature into special session to take up his plan for the state’s budget surplus. Though Republicans are unlikely to get behind any spending plans that require their approval.

At the end of the biennium, Wisconsin is projected to have a $3.8 billion surplus.

Evers said that doesn’t include the more than $1.7 billion in the rainy day fund, the most in Wisconsin history. “I announced my plan to use our surplus to help address rising costs and gas prices, to reduce barriers to work and to invest in education at every level," he said.

In his 2022 State of the State address, Evers said he would start by sending every Wisconsin resident $150. “Under my plan, if you’re a family of four, you would receive $600 to help provide a little more wiggle room and hopefully a little less stress about making ends meet,” he noted.

Evers’ plan includes tax credits for child care and for caregivers. He’ll sign an executive order Wednesday calling the GOP-led Legislature into special session to take up the plan.

Evers told GOP legislators that waiting until the next budget to distribute the money won’t help Wisconsinites buy groceries, pay for gas and heat their homes. “So, don’t sit here in a white, marble building with state coffers that are full and tell Wisconsinites who are working hard every day that we can’t afford to do more. That’s baloney,” he said.

Republicans have said the plan is dead on arrival, calling it reelection gimmicks. But Evers kept his address optimistic — highlighting past accords with GOP legislators to pass tax cuts.

“Last year, we provided $480 million in tax relief for Wisconsin businesses and families affected by the pandemic. Republicans and Democrats also found common ground. I was glad to deliver on my promise to cut taxes for middle class families by 15% by signing one of the largest tax cuts in state history," he said.

Evers said 86% of Wisconsin taxpayers will see a 15% income tax cut. And he talked up his use of federal COVID-19 relief funding that he can distribute without legislative approval.

Evers ticked off a $1 billion investment in small businesses, farmers, tourism and lodging. He also referred to money invested into infrastructure and broadband funding.

And, Evers announced new plans, like tapping $25 million in pandemic relief funds to continue a tuition freeze for in-state students in the UW System. Evers said he will also spend millions on mental health services at schools and for Wisconsin National Guard members and to support emergency medical services.

He noted a 2.8% unemployment rate, calling it the lowest in state history.

But Republicans weren’t so rosy. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos released a statement responding to Evers’ speech.

Vos attributed Evers’ delivered promises to billions in federal dollars and good policy decisions by Republican legislators. Vos said Evers has failed to address the workforce crisis, and that this spring Republicans plan to pass an initiative to help get more people back into the labor force.

Giving the GOP response to Evers’ speech, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu echoed those sentiments. He said the state is not as strong as it should be. “Ask yourself this — has Joe Biden or Tony Evers done anything to make your life better?" he asked. "Or has about everything that they've touched gotten worse — runaway inflation, rising crime, closed schools, supply chain disruptions, restricted COVID-19 rules that no longer make sense?”

LeMahieu also referenced the Legislature’s conservative agenda, increasing funding for police officers, expanding school choice and reshaping election law.

Evers is likely to veto these bills, but this year’s midterm elections will determine whether he keeps control of the pen that can do so.

Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye.

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